My kids are 7 and 9, and I thought that by this point they’d be able to occupy themselves for long stretches at a time, writing in their journals, folding origami cranes and doing intricate woodcarvings. Of course, I also thought my dogs would be leaving me my slippers by now, and that only happens if my slippers happen to travel through at least one of their digestive systems.
In reality, it doesn’t take very long for my children, when left to their own devices, to become booooooored — the more bored they are, the more o’s they put in. This despite the hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of toys and games we’ve purchased over the years; it’s enough to make you long for the old days, when if they got bored you could just send them out into the fields to work the thresher.
This is why I was so excited this week when I read that the Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., had added a very special item to its lineup, which includes only the most classic and revolutionary playthings: the stick. If you had any doubts that a Depression is coming, this news should put those to rest.
But it’s true; Christopher Bensch, the museum’s curator, told the Associated Press that the stick is “very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price — [and] there aren’t any rules or instructions for its use.” What I want to know is, where was Christopher Bensch the year I pledged to give only Christmas gifts that were available in nature? I’m still trying to live down my much-maligned “rocks with googly eyes.”
This news comes at a great time, because it was starting to seem like the only way to keep the kids occupied was to buy more sophisticated and expensive toys and gadgets. When they were little you could at least get by with blocks or little plastic zoo animals, but as they get older it becomes increasingly obvious that little plastic zoo animals cannot play mp3 versions of the songs from “High School Musical,” no matter how long you try to sync them.
It would be one thing if toys didn’t become obsolete almost immediately, like PCs or Rod Stewart albums. For instance, I recently cleaned out the garage and found several pricey items that were must-haves as recently as last Christmas, such as a giant Darth Vader that, in 47 easy steps, transforms into a Death Star with Darth Vader’s head sticking out of it. It’s the type of thing George Lucas must see when he’s on mushrooms, which I’m starting to think is most of the time.
But those crazy toys can be a thing of the past now, because the stick is making a big comeback. Bensch goes so far as to point out that the stick is “so fantastic” that even dogs love it, which frankly undercuts his argument a little bit, since dogs love everything — I mean, look what they did with my slippers.
Still, it’s a good reminder that there was a time when you could have fun with something that didn’t have a microchip in it. (I’m talking about you, Elmo — stop laughing, dammit!) I’m reminded of a friend of mine who grew up with his father lamenting his and his siblings’ lack of playtime ingenuity, pointing out the neighbors who could occupy themselves for hours with a piece of string. I think pieces of string were what the families got that couldn’t afford a stick.
So this has inspired me to sit my children down this Christmas, share with them the wisdom of the Toy Hall of Fame and present them with, not a new iPod, portable DVD player or game for the Wii, but rather their very own Christmas stick, which they in turn can make into — wait, let me check my notes — “a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band.”
And I won’t even blame them when they start taking turns whacking me with it.
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